The bees were buzzing at Forest Plaza Assisted Living as beekeepers Kelly and Dale Rayhons shared about the art of beekeeping.
The couple spoke about how they keep honeybees and what they do with the honey, as they spoke to the senior citizens at Forest Plaza Assisted Living.
“My husband, Dale, and I decided we were going get some bees and we talked about this probably five years ago,” Kelly said. “We have our acreage and we said, ‘You know, we’ve got enough room, let’s get some bees.’”
Kelly said her great-grandfather was a beekeeper as was Dale’s stepmom.
One day Kelly said they saw a class about basic beekeeping at North Iowa Area Community College, so they signed up.
“We took the class and then learned a whole bunch. Then we ended up taking it a second year because I think we can take it every single year and learn something new, but after that third year, which was last year, we got our first three hives,” she said. “…Dale does not know how to do anything on a small scale.”
With buying more hives, making splits (taking the largest hives and splitting them and making new colonies out of those) and catching a couple swarms of bees, the couple now owns 35 hives.
Dale said there are three different kinds of honeybees: the drone bee, which is male; the worker bee, which is female; and the queen bee, which there is only one per hive.
The worker bees do all the work while the drone bees just hang around and enjoy everything, according to Dale.
A hive is essentially a wooden box containing several frames and brood boxes with more frames inside, which goes on top of the base box to expand the hive.
“This is where the hive starts out,” Dale said. “And on this [frame] they build comb onto frames like this, they build it out, and then they start laying their eggs for the larvae and the workers and everything else.
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"The queen’s instincts tell her what eggs to lay – she can lay worker eggs, she can lay drone eggs. She can tell what her hive needs, so there is no script or no pattern that a bee has. The queen just lays what she feels she needs.”
Dale said drone bees mate with the queen once and that’s it. They then lay around the hive and eat honey, and in the wintertime when it starts getting cold the hive kicks all the males out because they know they don’t need them to survive.
“They do not need to be feeding all the extra bees in the wintertime,” he said.
Each hive has a front entrance for members of the hive to come in and out but they also guard the honey.
“Bees would rather steal someone else’s honey than make their own,” Dale said. “It’s much easier to steal someone else’s, so bees will go to other hives and try to steal their honey, and the bees have guard bees inside that guard the entrance. They can tell by the smell of the bees that are coming in that it belongs to their hive or not, so if they don’t smell the right bees they kick them out.”
When the hive is built enough, Dale said he will put the queen excluder, which looks like a grill’s wire rack, on top of the base box to keep the queen separate from the top box.
“So nothing but honey,” Kelly said. “No eggs, no larvae, no baby bees, just honey at the top. That’s the idea of the queen excluder.”
Queens are made from normal female worker bee larvae being fed royal jelly, a special fluid the bees make in glands on their throats, which is all they feed the queen.
“The egg is exactly the same,” Dale said. “One egg from a female worker to the queen is the same; it’s just that one was fed royal jelly.”
The couple collects not just the honey but also the wax the bees make to cap off the comb containing honey. They filter the honey from the wax many times to make pure beeswax, which Kelly said she uses to make various things like lotions, salves, lip balms, lotion bars and beeswax food covers.